As a Christian Latina, I have watched the women around me figuratively and literally help build the church. Like in many cultures, women often take on the responsibilities for cooking and feeding their families…and the church. Throughout the generations, women have made tamales, burritos, tacos, pupusas, pasteles, taquizas, and treats, sold at bake sales to raise money for the congregations.
I recall as though it were yesterday, being in the church as a teenager and going into the makeshift kitchen in the church to help the women cook. I don’t know how the people in the church during service could concentrate with the delicious smells that were coming from the basement, of arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans), pasteles (fried meat pies), and other traditional Caribbean dishes, as my home church at this time was predominantly made up of families of Puerto Rican descent.
You might think the women preparing the food during service would resent the fact they were missing out on being inside. Quite the contrary: While they cooked, they shared testimonies, they shared needs, they sang, they praised God. They “had church” in that kitchen and while they cooked; they edified each other, prayed over each other, encouraged each other and loved each other. In congregations without kitchens, the food is prepared at home and brought to the church to eat together.
In my own congregation, the women have contributed towards our goal of a church building by selling a variety of food to raise over $10,000 towards our down payment. They do this very traditional, nurturing thing; cooking with great pride because they know they are helping to build the church. God is glorified through the meals these women prepare.
In Latino communities, it’s not uncommon for the funds to build, remodel, or purchase a building for the church to come out of their fundraising efforts. This means hundreds of churches across Latin America and the US have been “built” by the women of the church.
Because I have observed what a powerful force women can be in a congregation, I know it’s a shame when views on gender differences or prejudices about race and ethnicity prevent women from getting the respect that we deserve.
Sometimes women’s contributions will look like “church ladies” holding bake sales; sometimes they will take the form of teaching and evangelism. We see this range of involvement modeled by women throughout the New Testament.
Certain scholars consider the woman at the well the first evangelist. John 4:28-30 reads, “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ So the people came streaming from the village to see him.” This Samaritan woman helped build the church by telling others about Jesus.
As a Samaritan, she could expect to be marginalized and looked down upon by the Jews of this time. The Samaritans were seen as unwelcome “invaders”—a parallel we find in the church today whenever we witness divisions due to racial and ethnic differences. Sadly, women and particularly Latino women are still marginalized somewhat within the church today.
In my own experience, when I was first asked by my leaders to be a candidate for pastor of a local church, I recall feeling reluctant about agreeing to be considered. With prayer, I felt that was the right time for me, so we moved forward. The night of the vote a man stood outside the door of the church and told people not to vote for me, because I was a woman and if I were selected, the doors of the church would close within six months.
That night, only a decade ago, I lost the election by four votes. To the glory of God, I planted a church in Sacramento soon after. We began with 18 adults and children in a living room. A few years later, my husband started our English congregation. Together our congregations have hundreds in attendance weekly, celebrating God’s goodness at both Cantico Nuevo and New Season, a multi-cultural, multi-generational church.
My experience and those of other women can, at times, cause us to falsely believe that we bring nothing to the table; instead, we know that God has used a range of women’s gifts and actions to build the church throughout its history. Part of this lack of confidence among women comes from gleaning that their work—whether baking, cleaning, child-rearing, party-organizing, teaching, or even preaching—is not as valuable as other work being done in the church.
This happens across society, as last month’s #LikeAGirl Super Bowl commercial demonstrated. It has become demeaning, an insult, to do something “like a girl.” But as the commercial suggests, that’s a message we internalized and created. Instead, doing things like a girl could mean rewriting the rules and doing things well.
One of the ways we can rewrite the rules and continue to build the church is by allowing and creating spaces where women can be encouraged to continue using their gifts, all of their gifts, in the church.
Through the efforts of the ministry my husband leads, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), we intentionally include tracks for women and women in leadership during our annual board meeting. Here, we have a safe place to network, share, be equipped and empowered with other women who know both the great challenges and the great rewards of building His church.
Too often we allow social constructs and our preconceived notions of our identity to bear too much weight on our perception of the value they hold. We internalize the message that women’s work is somewhat lesser, but given that women outnumber men in our churches, doing church “like a girl” is a good thing for the wellbeing of our congregations. (According to the United States Congregational Life Survey, the typical congregation within the United States has approximately 61 percent female attendees. Barna states that on any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in American churches.)
My truth is that whether a person is white, brown, black, red, yellow, male or female, they all have value and have something to contribute at the table—a table where if you are sitting with a Latina, and she’s cooking, you get to enjoy both the common grace we share in Christ… and a delicious meal.
Pastor Eva Rodriguez is a wife, mother, church planter, preacher, and motivator. She serves as president of the Latino Evangelical Women's Association and pastor of Cantico Nuevo Centro Cristiano de Adoracion in Sacramento, California. Born to Puerto Rican American parents and fluent in both English and Spanish, Eva lives for the service of Christ and to contextualize a narrative of righteousness and justice where all can experience a new season through the blood of the Lamb.